In a series of articles, we want to cover the general process of planning, permitting, installation, and maintenance of a solar plant.
In this article, we will cover the general permitting process. This is not a ‘how-to’ guide; it is a good way to learn the thought process that your qualified persons will go through in designing and gaining legal authority to implement a solar plant installation. Knowledge is Power, as they say, and you will always be in a better position the more you understand what you are paying for.
In most places the world over there are permits required for building structures and permits required for electrical installations. But this requirement and its fulfillment vary widely from one jurisdiction to another. The purpose of any permitting process is to ensure that work is done in accordance with current minimum standards for the safety of anyone who does or will be in the vicinity of the work and/or completed installation.
In general terms, qualified persons, as defined in your local electrical code are the people who can apply for an electrical permit for work that you contract out. And also, generally speaking, those to whom a permit is issued (ie your electrician) is the person who is directly responsible for building the system. (https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy13osti/57104.pdf)
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL.org) in the U.S. is engaged in advancing the use of efficiency-enhancing digital permitting processes. This is an extremely important objective. As most people will know, the cost of solar componentry has dropped precipitously over the past decade. But a big sticking point on the cost of solar has been that permitting and inspections are opaque, vary from one jurisdiction to another, and add significantly to the final cost of a solar installation. NREL offers to aid in developing permitting process standardization with the objective of integrating a low-cost, low-risk solution to help jurisdictions advance the solar market.
The guide (link is shown above) is aimed at offering to help states and local jurisdictions to standardize processes and bring permitting fees to a logical level. There are possibilities and examples provided for statewide legislation, permitting templates and checklists, inspection time windows, online permitting, and fee options.
Well, where do you live? The example we have is from San Jose, California where “Qualifying Single Family/Duplex PV Projects” have a much-streamlined process. A series of criteria determine if a project qualifies but the document – shown in this article and also available here: https://www.sanjoseca.gov/home/showdocument?id=27311 also clearly lists what to do if there are other requirements.
The work done on your solar plant has to be done in a manner that is safe. The Occupational Health and Safety Act in your jurisdiction lays out what ‘safe’ means in your area. It covers everything from working at heights to personal protection equipment to the handling of hazardous products. The requirement to work and supervise work in a safe manner is the responsibility of your chosen installer. There are health and safety inspectors that have the legal authority to stop work on a worksite that is unsafe and demand the implementation of missing safety efforts.
The award of an electrical permit makes inspection of that work the responsibility of something called the ‘Authority Having Jurisdiction’ or AHJ. In the U.S.A. that would most probably be someone who is a Nationally Certified Electrical Inspector but in either the U.S. or Canada the state or province will designate that responsibility to some sort of Electrical Safety Authority. The International Association of Electrical Inspectors is a trade association with thousands of members around the world. Your electrical inspector is almost certainly a member if you live in a ‘G30’ country.
Electrical work must not be hidden away until it is inspected and given the seal of approval of the electrical inspector. Thereafter it can be buried in the structure. And yes, inspectors have been known to demand that work be ripped out if it is hidden before it is inspected. If you’ve chosen your installer with care they can explain this process for you but don’t let them explain why they don’t need the permitting process. Know this part yourself.
Your general process would go something like this:
- What is your local AHJ
- Describe your idea to the AHJ to find out if you need permits. (this may be a no-brainer if your idea is big enough)
- Get quotes and ideas from installers in your area. You may want to check qualifications.
- Ensure that your chosen installer gains legal authority for your chosen design.
- Look to see if/when a building and/or an electrical inspector will show up to verify the safety of the installation. The issuance of the required permits ensures this will happen.
- Enjoy your new system!
This authority and responsibility assignment system is your guarantee that your system conforms to the standards required where you live. Don’t allow anyone to deprive you of the right to a safe and legal solar plant.